TAMPA, Fla. — The team that wins by the sloppy football game dies by the sloppy football game.
A week after beating the Atlanta Falcons despite five turnovers and one offensive touchdown, the Tennessee Titans could not offer a repeat performance, losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13-10 Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
The Titans not only lost the game, but also lost quarterback Vince Young in the third quarter to a quadriceps injury, leaving his status for next week’s game in Houston in doubt.
Tennessee followed much the same recipe for disaster that it did a week ago against the Falcons, only this time, the consequences caught up to them against the Buccaneers.
The Titans turned the ball over three times, losing two fumbles, plus a Young interception and had two more Kerry Collins interceptions overturned by instant replay.
In addition, Tennessee managed just 96 rushing yards on 33 carries and did not have a rush from scrimmage of longer than nine yards.
“We should have won. That’s how we feel in this locker room,” tight end Bo Scaife said. “I’m pretty sure they’re going to say different, but we should have won. We had our backs to the wall. We just had to make one play. We could have done a better job early in the game executing. As an offense, we’ve got to score more than 10 points.”
Nonetheless, with the Titans trailing 10-3 with 7:34 to play, Collins moved them 86 yards in 13 plays over 6:17 for the tying touchdown on LenDale White’s 2-yard run with 1:24 to play.
Just as they did last week against Atlanta, the Titans then placed the game in the hands of their defense, asking it to get a stop with 1:17 to play. This time, however, the Titans defense could not answer the challenge and allowed Jeff Garcia to drive the Bucs 55 yards in 1:01 where Matt Bryant nailed a 43-yard field goal with 16 seconds left to hand the Titans the loss.
The key play came on third-and-10 with 1:05 to play when Garcia eluded the rush of Travis LaBoy and completed a pass to Ike Hilliard, who not only gained 28 yards, but went all the way across the field to get out of bounds. From there, Garcia completed three more passes to set up Bryant’s winning kick.
“We were close all afternoon. Unfortunately, we weren’t close enough,” LaBoy said of a Titans front four that pressured Garcia, but did not record any sacks.
It was an ugly game from the start with a Chris Brown fumble at the Bucs’ 36 thwarting a Titans drive in the second quarter.
Tampa Bay cashed in on the turnover as Garcia completed a 39-yard pass to Michael Clayton that set up Bryant’s 23-yard field goal that gave the Buccaneers a 3-0 halftime lead.
The Titans answered on the opening series of the third quarter with a Rob Bironas 48-yard field goal, and the game remained tied until a blown coverage in the Tennessee secondary allowed Joey Galloway to go 69 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. The deep pass beat both safety Calvin Lowry and cornerback Nick Harper, who was helping on the play.
“I was helping,” Harper said. “It’s just one of those things where we’ve both got to make the play. We had just got through talking about it. We knew what they were going to do. We knew it was coming, and we’ve both got to make that play.”
Said Galloway, “The safeties are what we are hunting there. If we can beat the safeties and we throw pretty well, he made a nice throw and we got to the end zone.”
It seemed as though the Titans offense would need a compass to find the end zone until the tying fourth-quarter drive where Collins completed a 42-yard pass to Justin Gage to put Tennessee in business at the Bucs’ 32. The Titans eventually scored seven plays later, but needed help from replay to overturn a Ronde Barber interception that would have killed the drive.
With the game then in the defense’s hands, the Titans could not contain Garcia and fell short, falling to 3-2 and putting an exclamation point on an effort that was close but not good enough.
“We didn’t do our job,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “Our job is to give up less points than our opponent, and we didn’t get that done. We gave up two big plays that led to scores, and we have them third-and-10 in the two-minute. …. Those three plays were the biggest difference.”